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Aug. 12, 2005

Health Department Suggests Ways to Prevent Heat-Related Illness

As temperatures climb over 90 degrees Fahrenheit and stay there for several days, the Oswego County Health Department warns that heat-related illnesses can cause serious injury and even death if not treated.

"Although anyone at any time can suffer heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others," said County Health Commissioner Kathleen Smith. "People aged 65 or older are particularly susceptible to heat-related illnesses and complications that can result during periods of high temperatures and humidity. Individuals with chronic respiratory illnesses, such as asthma or diabetes, may also find that their conditions worsen during these times."

Smith said that infants and young children are also at increased risk for complications in the summer heat. Reduce the amount of physical activity during hot and humid conditions and arrange outdoor play before 10 a.m. and after 2 p.m. to avoid the hottest sun of the day.

Heat stroke (or sun stroke) is the most severe form of heat-related illness and causes several hundred deaths in the United States each year. Heat stroke occurs when a person's body temperature exceeds 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat stroke is often accompanied by confusion and can progress to coma and death unless treated by rapidly lowering the body temperature.

"If you believe that someone has heat stroke, call for emergency medical treatment or have the person taken to the hospital immediately," Smith said.

Other less severe forms of heat-related illness are heat exhaustion and heat cramps. Heat exhaustion occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a warm, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Heat exhaustion is characterized by cold, pale, clammy skin, and may include fainting and vomiting.

If someone appears to be suffering from heat exhaustion, he or she must be moved to a cool area out of direct sunlight and sponge bathed with cool water. Give sips of water every 15 minutes for one hour.

Heat cramps are painful spasms, usually in the legs and abdomen that result from heavy exertion and sweating. To relieve heat cramps, apply firm pressure on cramping muscles or gently massage them. As in the case of heat exhaustion, give sips of water every 15 minutes for one hour.

To ensure a safe summer, take these steps to stay cool in the hot weather:

  • Drink more fluids. Don't wait until you are thirsty to drink. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which dehydrate the body.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Light colors will reflect away some of the sun's energy. It is also a good idea to wear a wide-brimmed hat or use an umbrella and use a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher.
  • Eat small meals and eat more often. Do not eat a lot of food high in protein, which increases metabolic heat.
  • Slow down. If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 4 and 7 a.m.
  • When temperatures are extreme, stay indoors, ideally in an air-conditioned place.
  • Never leave anyone--a person or animal--in a parked vehicle.

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